As of this week, the MLS preseason is officially underway. There have been many new players brought in and the team is still taking shape, but the first preseason game is quickly approaching.
Heading into preseason, there are many new positional battles to be fought between all the new players brought in. We’re going to break down each one right here.
Joe Bendik is the starting ’keeper, although Adam Grinwis was brought in to battle Earl Edwards Jr.
This will be one of the more interesting battles. While Donny Toia played almost every minute in 2017, the arrival of Mohamed El-Munir will bring some competition. There will almost certainly be rotation between the two throughout the year, but Head Coach Jason Kreis will be looking to see if El-Munir can provide more to the attack than Toia, while still helping to secure the defense.
There are currently only two center backs on the roster — Jonathan Spector and José Aja. Expect this to change in the coming weeks, but for right now there is, unfortunately, no battle at center back.
RJ Allen will have to play lights out in order to overtake Scott Sutter. Sutter was one of the best acquisitions a year ago and played more minutes than any other Lion field player in 2017. Allen will likely only be a depth option, but hopefully the added pressure brings up both Allen’s and Sutter’s games.
Yoshimar Yotún was signed late in 2017 and only played in 10 MLS games. However, in those 10 games he showed his worth and proved that he is every bit of the player that the Orlando City front office hoped for. No competition here, as Yoshi will not only be one of the best Lions in 2018, but could put a case up for one of the best in the league.
This battle largely depends on what formation Kreis goes with. Sacha Kljestan and Josué Colmán will definitely be in the starting XI, and both could feature in center of the midfield. This is not the most likely to happen, though, because of the situation it will leave in the right side of the midfield (see below). Expect to see one of them in the center and the other out wide, that is if Kreis keeps his 4-4-2. Cristian Higuita, Will Johnson, and Dillon Powers will battle for the other central position.
Kreis could also switch to a 4-2-3-1. In that case, Higuita, Johnson, and Powers will battle for the two defensive midfield spots, while the attacking line will likely be Yoshi out left, Kljestan in the center, and Colmán to the right.
Kljestan and Colmán will be battling more for where on the field they will be playing. It will not be much of a battle, but more of who fits better in what position. This should not take too much time in preseason to figure out and the two could alternate in different games and situations.
This is the most open position right now and it will largely depend on what formation Kreis goes with. Kljestan or Colmán could play here, but the real battle will be if Cameron Lindley or Chris Mueller can break into the starting XI. If either of the two can prove that they can start at this level, then that will create a whole new dynamic within the team. This will force Johnson and Higuita out of the lineup so that Kljestan and Colmán can play in the center together, while one of the two youngsters moves to the right.
Obviously Dom Dwyer is up top, but the battle is for who will play next to him. While technically Cyle Larin is still under contract, the Canadian did not show up for training and is trying to force himself out of MLS. This will not sit well with Kreis if Larin stays, and the 22-year-old could soon find himself on the bench in Orlando.
Stefano Pinho and Jose Villarreal will both be fighting for the second striker spot, while Mueller may also be in the mix. Mueller comes with versatility to play in the midfield and up top, so if he has an impressive preseason Kreis will have his pick of where to play the first-round pick. Pinho is the front-runner for the position now, but the Brazilian is unproven in MLS and will need to show that he can play at this level and next to Dwyer.
Okay, no, this is not a real position, but it is an underrated role in soccer. The player that can come off the bench late in the game, change momentum, and get their team back in the game is not one that everyone has. Last year Richie Laryea had some of that, albeit his ability was not up to par. Laryea will want to be fighting for a starting spot this year, but first off the bench is most likely for him. Whoever loses the central midfield position between Johnson, Higuita, and Powers will also be fighting for this role.
Pierre Da Silva is a young, talented midfielder who excelled at OCB the past few years. In 2018 he will finally get a shot at the MLS squad and he will need preseason to prove that. If he does well, he could end up getting a good amount of minutes off the bench.